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FREE Resources  //  Raising the cognitive demand level of 'Hotseating' and applying it across the curriculum

Hotseating is a drama technique, often used in literacy lessons, in which the teacher or a pupil / pupils assume the role of a character from a book being read in class. Once they have 'become the character' they take the Hotseat (usually a chair at the front of the class) and are asked questions which they have to answer in role.

The approach is extremely useful as it allows the teacher to assess the pupils' understanding of characters in the book. If one assumes a pupil's perspective it is also useful as it encourages them to process information from the book thereby deepening their understanding of the text.

The cognitive demand level of 'Hotseating' is, however, often defined by the 'type' of questions asked . When working with Key Stage 1/2 pupils the author has noted that they often fall into repetitive patterns of questioning. A typical Key Stage 1 Hotseating session in which the teacher 'became' Cinderella began as follows,

Teacher: Now I'm Cinderella. Who would like to ask me a question?
Pupil 1: Did you like the ball?(followed by teacher response)
Pupil 2: Did you like the prince? (ditto)
Pupil 3: Did you like the magic fairy?

The cognitive demand level of such a session is low, due to the repetitive nature of the questions. When analysed one notes that the patterned nature of the questions is a direct result of the pupils assimilating the question stem ('Did you...?') and reusing it to structure their questions.

This situation can be remedied through careful use of a Prompt Poster approach. The teacher needs to prepare a 'Hotseating' poster such as the one below,


  1. Who..?
  2. Where..?
  3. When..?
  4. Why..?
  5. What..?
  6. How..?

In the following session the teacher would assume the Hotseat and model how to use the poster,

Teacher: Now I'm Cinderella. Who would like to ask me a Number Six question?
Pupil1: How did you feel when you saw the Fairy?
Teacher: (Answer) followed by... Who would like to ask me a NumberThree question?
Pupil 2: When did you feel the most happy?

The person in the Hotseat, using this method, is actively involved in controlling the breadth of question types that are asked. Once modelled by the teacher then pupils can take on a role and apply the approach. The teacher would join the rest of the class and would only prompt the pupil in the Hotseat if they didn't encourage a 'spread' of questions.

The prompt poster approach can be varied in order to focus attention on an aspect of characterisation such as Beliefs and Motivation. This approach could be used with older Key Stage 2 pupils to develop a more in depth understanding of character development. A 'Beliefs and Motivation' Prompt Poster (used in exactly the same way as the previous example) is included below:

Hotseating: Beliefs and motivation

  1. Why did you...?
  2. What do you think about...?
  3. Isn't it true that...?
  4. Are you happy with...?
  5. What makes you...?
  6. Why did you react...?

If pupils are reticent to assume the Hotseat then it may be prudent for the teacher to begin with Paired Hotseating approaches. Pupil A takes the Hotseat and Pupil B asks the questions. At a given signal the pupils swap roles.

There are numerous ways of varying the traditional Hotseat format. The author uses the following -

  1. Interview e.g. Interviewing Cinderella for the post of 'Princess'. To ensure that this works effectively time can be set aside beforehand for pupils (in groups) to generate interview questions. With Y5-6 pupils making a list of qualities expected of the candidate works well as a preliminary step prior to question generation
  2. Talk Show The teacher usually take the role of the host and invites questions and comments from the audience (rest of class not in Hotseat).the advantage of this approach over traditional Hotseating is that it allows the teacher to probe understanding by asking supplementary questions whilst still in role as the 'Host'.

Press conferences, Trials and debates also work well!

Hotseating is usually used in literacy contexts to explore character but with a little imagination it provides a useful tool for processing information across the entire curriculum. The author calls this technique 'Personification Hotseating'.

If, for example, the class were studying volcanoes in a geography context the teacher might initiate a short-burst hotseating session :

Teacher: O.K. everyone let's do a quick 'hotseat' game. I'm a volcano! Ask me some questions.

Although this works well in the ad hoc fashion just described it can also be controlled in a manner similar to the literacy specific examples. Instead of question stems being used on the Prompt poster, subject specific words are included. An example of a 'Volcanoes' prompt poster is included below:


  1. Magma
  2. Lava
  3. Eruption
  4. Active
  5. Pyrotechnic flow
  6. Surge

If the person in the Hotseat asks for a number 2 question then the questioner must include the word 'lava' in their question. As it is difficult to produce a question if one has no understanding of the subject specific word then the teacher has an opportunity to assess pupils understanding of the focus area.

This approach can be used across the entire curriculum. In science the person in the hotseat could be a Plant; in Art they could become a painting; in mathematics they could become a n umber / shape etc. The opportunities for 'Personification' Hotseating across the curriculum are innumerable and the technique which is undoubtedly enjoyable never fails to capture the attention of the pupils.

If we wish to make our lessons sufficiently distinctive to be accessed by the pupils' long term memory then hotseating is a valuable tool to be applied as a way of making learning both memorable and fun!